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Stan Becton | | October 14, 2021

Jerry Rice Award: Complete history of the FCS freshman honor

North Dakota State's football dynasty

The Jerry Rice Award is given each year to the most outstanding freshman player in FCS football. UIW quarterback Cameron Ward received the 2020-21 award.

Here's everything you need to know about the annual honor, presented by Stats Perform FCS.

FCS Jerry Rice Award: What is it and who is it named after?

The Jerry Rice Award debuted in 2011 to honor the most outstanding freshman player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

A national panel of more than 40 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers, and other dignitaries vote on the award's winner, based on players' regular-season performances. Voting is conducted before the start of the FCS playoffs.

The Jerry Rice Award is one of five national awards announced by STATS FCS:

  • Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year)
  • Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year)
  • Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman of the year)
  • Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year)
  • Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year

The freshman player of the year award's namesake, Jerry Rice, was an NFL legend with the San Francisco 49ers, also playing for three other teams. Rice earned 13 NFL Pro Bowl trips, 10 first-team All-Pros, three Super Bowls, and a Super Bowl MVP amongst other accolades. The 1985 first-round pick began his journey at FCS program Mississippi Valley State from 1981-1984. 

Rice, an All-American wide receiver, measured in at 6’2’’ and 200 pounds. He earned All-American accolades twice, setting records for receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Rice is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia.

Fordham Athletics Chase Edmonds Jerry Rice Award Fordham running back Chase Edmonds won the 2014 Jerry Rice Award

FCS Jerry Rice Award: When is the winner announced?

The Jerry Rice Award winner is revealed annually after the conclusion of the FCS regular season. The 2020-21 recipient was announced Monday, May 13, 2021. 

All five STATS FCS national honors are celebrated at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation, though the Jerry Rice, Eddie Robinson, and Doris Robinson winners are all announced ahead of time. The Payton and Buchanan award winners are revealed for the first time as part of the ceremony.

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The first Jerry Rice Award watch list is released in the preseason by STATS FCS. The list has updates periodically throughout the regular season, culminating in the announcement of finalists.

FCS Jerry Rice Award: Complete history of past recipients

UIW quarterback Cameron Ward is the 10th recipient of the Jerry Rice Award. Ward set a school record with 24 touchdown passes and finished third nationally with 30.5 completions per game and 376.7 passing yards per game in six games. 

Quarterbacks and running backs have accounted for a position-best four winners since the award debuted in 2011. One wide receiver and one linebacker have also been honored. No school has multiple winners.

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Other notable past honorees include eventual NFL stars Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington, 2013), Chase Edmonds (Fordham, 2014) and Trey Lance (2019). See the full list below.

FCS Walter Payton Award winners (2011-2021):

2020 Cameron Ward, UIW Quarterback
2019 Trey Lance, North Dakota State Quarterback
2018 Josh Davis, Weber State Running Back
2017 Bryson Armstrong, Kennesaw State Linebacker
2016 A.J. Hines, Duquesne Running Back
2015 Case Cookus, Northern Arizona Quarterback
2014 Chase Edmonds, Fordham Running Back
2013 Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington Wide Receiver
2012 John Robertson, Villanova Quarterback
2011 Terrance West, Towson Running Back

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